School of Humanities



Don Boyer

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 2174
Fax: (+61 8) 6488 1069

Start date

Jul 2011

Submission date

Jul 2019

Don Boyer


The water management system of the Graeco-Roman city of Gerasa and its hinterland


Gerasa (modern Jarash in northern Jordan) was one of the cities of the Decapolis; a group of Hellenistic cities that later formed part of the eastern edge of the Roman Empire in the Near East. Gerasa grew from relatively humble beginnings in the 2nd century BC to become a prosperous city in the Roman-Byzantine period. Major phases of public building took place in the early Roman period from the second half of the 1st century AD to the end of the 2nd century AD, including temples, theatres, baths, a hippodrome and water monuments that today form the ruins of one of the best preserved cities in the Roman Empire.

The importance of the water supply and the agriculturally rich hinterland has been noted by chroniclers and visitors to Jarash from the very earliest times; for the early Greek colonists Gerasa was officially ‘Antioch on the Chrysorhoas’, Chrysorhoas meaning ‘Golden River’. The existence of a major natural spring within the city walls and another less than 2 km upstream was also noted by early visitors, and the general consensus amongst archaeologists working within Gerasa has, until recently, been that these two springs were the main water sources for Gerasa in the Graeco- Roman period.

It is likely that the domestic water requirements of the early settlement at Gerasa were met by the traditional use of rain-water catchment and water storage in underground cisterns - perhaps augmented by local spring supplies – but the requirements of the city expansion that took place in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, and in particular the provision of many public fountains and larger water-consuming monuments such as the Nymphaeum and large baths, required a much more substantial and sustained water supply. The creation and management of this expanded system to the city and its hinterland, and its impact on the population, is the subject of this project.

Why my research is important

Gerasa was not just a major city of the Decapolis but is the best-preserved of those cities. Water was the vital commodity that underpinned settlement and the establishment of a water management system determined when and how it could develop. Gerasa offers an excellent opportunity to explore and interpret the water supply system and its development over several centuries to meet changing circumstances and needs. As such it can be a guide to and yardstick for the other cities of the group.


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